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[Herbal Rootlets]: No. 119 – Making Herbal Glycerites with Kids

Just what is an herbal glycerite and why would you want to use it?

Have you ever heard of a glycerite? Have you ever used one?

In today’s article, I am going to talk all about glycerites, the pros and cons, and how to make them.

What are glycerites?

Glycerites are similar to tinctures but instead of alcohol, are made from glycerin.

Last week I gave you the run down on making herbal tinctures with alcohol.

You can find that article here in case you missed it.

What is glycerin?

Glycerin is a thick, clear, sticky liquid that is made from fat/oil and generally from soy, palm, or coconut oil though it can be made from animal and petroleum products as well, and is the sugar alcohol, known as glycerol or glyceric alcohol, from these products. It is created by heating the fat under pressure, often with an alkali such as lye, to cause the sugar alcohol to split away from the fatty acids.

Glycerin has had a variety of uses, from its first use in making dynamite, to being used in the cosmetic industry for various products. Though it’s been around since the late 1700’s, it was first used in medicine making in the mid-1800’s.

Today it’s used in many commonly used items including toothpaste, deodorants, makeup, soaps, candles, lotions, yogurt, ice cream, cough syrups, and more.

When purchasing a glycerin, avoid synthetic glycerins, as they are made from petroleum products. Mountain Rose Herbs carries organic glycerin.

Why herbal glycerites?

Sometimes, an alcohol based tincture is not wanted when making herbal medicine for various reasons.

You may choose to not want to give your children alcohol tinctures, or if there’s an adult who is alcohol intolerant, they may be too sensitive to alcohol to be able to consume tinctures.

What other options are there?

If you are wanting to make an herbal remedy that is fairly shelf stable and long lasting, there are two other options: herbal vinegars and herbal glycerites.

I wrote all about herbal vinegars awhile back. You can find that article here.

Herbal glycerites are made similarly to tinctures in that you add the herb to a jar, then fill it with glycerin and water and let it sit for several weeks before straining and using.

Glycerin is naturally sweet, making it a remedy that most children are agreeable to taking.

Glycerins make remedies that are not as strong as their alcohol based counterparts.

While this may make glycerites less desirable for adults, this can be great for making a milder and gentler remedy for children.

Glycerin is fairly stable, solvent, and has preservative properties, making it a fairly good substitute for alcohol.

It does not evaporate as alcohol does.

It works best as a glycerite based tincture when combined with herbs that are high in tannins or alkaloids and less effective for herbs that are high in resins or oils.

Glycerin contains some medicinal properties, including antiseptic actions. When diluted, glycerin becomes emollient, demulcent, and healing.

Glycerin absorbs moisture from the air, requiring it to be kept in an airtight container to avoid an excessive increase in moisture.

How to make glycerites

There are many different ways to make glycerites, just as there are tinctures.

Herbalist James Green has an excellent break down of different ways to make glycerites in his book The Herbal Medicine Maker’s Handbook, which can get as complex as tincture making.

If you want to read more in depth on the various methods of glycerite (and all other herbal medicine) making, I highly recommend his book.

Today I’m going to teach you the simpler/folk method of making a glycerite.

Fresh herb glycerite

Chop your fresh herb up and pack your jar with the herb. (With the Elderberries pictured below, there is no need to chop).

Pour the fresh herb into a blender.

You want to add half the amount of glycerin to begin with so if your jar is a 16 ounce jar, add 8 ounces of glycerin to the blender.

Blend until the herbs and the glycerin are completely combined.

You should not need any water but if you are using an herb that is not particularly juicy, you may need to add a few tablespoons of water to help the mixture blend.

Pour the mixture back into the jar.

Add more glycerin to completely fill the jar and cover the herb mixture.

Shake to combine.

Continue to shake daily for four weeks.

When you’re ready to strain off your glycerite, line a strainer with cheesecloth or other thin cloth and place the strainer over a glass measuring cup.

Dump your glycerite into the strainer and let it strain. This will take awhile as it is very thick.

Once the majority has strained through, you can gather the ends of the cloth and squeeze the cloth to get the remaining glycerite out of the herbs.

Compost your herbs and label the jar with the name of the glycerite, the date it was made, the glycerin/water ratio and information about the herb (fresh, source, etc).

Dried herb glycerite

For dried herbs, you want to grind them as much as possible, using a mortar and pestle or a high speed blender.

You will want to fill the jar you are using about half full of your ground herbs.

Next in a glass mixing jar, estimate how much glycerin you will need.

You’ll want a ratio of about 60% glycerin and 40% water, as glycerin will contain about 5% water already bringing the total of glycerin down to 55% and the total of water to 45%.

You can go higher on your amount of glycerin if you’d like but this is generally a good ratio.

If you’ve filled a pint (16 ounce) jar half full, you will need about 8 ounces of glycerin and 4 ounces of water.

Add these ingredients to a glass measuring cup and stir them to thoroughly mix together the glycerin and water.

Pour some of the mixture into the jar with the dried herbs and use a chopstick or knife to stir, thoroughly wetting the dried herbs.

Gradually continue adding more of the glycerin mixture until it fills the jar, making sure there’s at least 1/4 inch of glycerin/water above the herb line.

Put a lid on your jar and shake well.

Let it sit overnight. The next day, check the level to make sure there’s still that 1/4 inch of liquid above the herbs.

If there’s not, add more glycerin to fill in the gap.

Shake daily for four weeks.

When you’re ready to strain off your glycerite, line a strainer with cheesecloth or other thin cloth and place the strainer over a glass measuring cup.

Dump your glycerite into the strainer and let it strain. This will take awhile as it is very thick.

Once the majority has strained through, you can gather the ends of the cloth and squeeze the cloth to get the remaining glycerite out of the herbs.

Compost your herbs and label the jar with the name of the glycerite, the date it was made, the glycerin/water ratio and information about the herb (dried, source, etc).

Herbs that work well as glycerites

As I mentioned earlier, resinous and aromatic herbs don’t generally work as well as herbs that are rich in tannins and alkaloids.

Here is an incomplete list of herbs that work well as glycerites to get you started:

Blackberry

Boneset

Burdock

Cacao

Calendula

California Poppy

Chamomile

Chicory

Clove

Crampbark

Cranberry

Dandelion

Echinacea

Elder

Fennel

Feverfew

Ginger

Goldenrod

Ground Ivy

Hawthorn

Honeysuckle

Hops

Milky Oats

Motherwort

Mugwort

Mullein

Oak

Peppermint

Plantain

Raspberry

Red Clover

Rose

Rosemary

Sage

Skullcap

Spilanthes

Stinging Nettles

Sumac

Turmeric

Vitex

Valerian

Wild Cherry

Willow

Wood Betony

Yarrow

Yellow Dock

If there’s an herb you want to try to create a glycerite with but it is a resinous or aromatic herb, try making a small amount just to see how it works.

Also, remember that a plant may contain a combination of all these constituents.

Depending on the use, it might still be strong enough to be effective.

I always like to experiment and try it out, even if the books say it won’t work.

Though they are often not as strong as tinctures, glycerites can work well for those who are sensitive to alcohol or for children who don’t need as strong of a dose of herbal medicine.

Have you ever made or used a glycerite?

Share your experiences in the comments, I’d love to hear them!


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